The 7 Essentials of Successful Team Building Activities for Onboarding

Onboarding is a fundamental piece of the candidate transition process. Gone are the days when companies would simply welcome new hires with an orientation packet followed by a perfunctory tour of the office. In today’s fluid marketplace of knowledge workers, organizations that wish to not only recruit, but retain, top talent must ensure that new hires at all levels are thoroughly well-versed in the norms and expectations which define a particular workplace culture.

Now, some parts of onboarding will inevitably feel a bit like school. There’s an incredible amount of information about company history, values, mission, vision, product roadmap and more to absorb. But amidst all the learning, there should still be room for some fun, too. In fact, it may very well be light-hearted activities that help your new employees feel more comfortable in their new environment!

Providing new employees with an immersive onboarding experiences that mixes fun and education not only gives them critical knowledge they need in a short period of time, but also creates a bonding experience with others new to the company whom they can forge ongoing relationships with. Doing so will also help ease and speed the transition from candidates to colleagues, and provide your newest team members with a running start as they begin to work alongside your existing staff.

Here are seven key elements of effective onboarding team building activities:

Have Your Goals Clearly Defined

Begin with the end in mind. What do you want this group to get out of the experience? At a bare minimum, you will want to highlight your mission, core values, and essential elements of your culture. But what else is important to you? What is it that you want your new hires walking away from this experience with? Be as specific as you can, for the more clear you are from the beginning about your goals/objective, the greater likelihood your activity will have in achieving them.

Make it Fun & Positive

Your new staff members have just taken a major leap to come work with your company. You want them to be enthusiastic and excited about working for you! The new hire team bonding event should be an enjoyable experience, not boring or foreboding. The activity should be entertaining, the message upbeat.

Focus on Quality over Quantity

Nobody wants to start a new job by immediately embarking in a marathon group bonding activity with strangers. Whatever structured activity you’re planning to do, keep it brief – under two hours, if possible. They’re going to have a lot of information thrown at them on the first day, and there’s only so much they’ll be able to retain. There is also opportunity cost to consider: every minute spent ramping up new hires is a minute they’re NOT doing what they’ve been hired to. Make it the quality of the experience that counts, not the length of time committed or volume of content absorbed.

Make it Memorable

You have a wonderful opportunity at the very start of your new colleagues’ career with your firm to make a true impact. What can you do to ensure that it will be an unforgettable experience? How can you make it special? Think creatively, and let them know that you’ve put in the time and effort to do something that conveys how much you value them choosing you, rather than a competitor.

Make it Engaging

This is not the time for your group to be passive listeners, their eyes glazing over as they watch back-to-back PowerPoint slideshows about the importance of punctuality and attire. Rather, you want the onboarding experience to feel interactive; that the new hires are actually “doing” something, preferably together as a group. There is no better way to learn than by doing, and especially when it comes to the key messages of new hire orientation, you want to instill them as quickly and effectively as possible.

Involve Existing Staff

Going back to the above point about making it memorable, nothing conveys the message of truly caring about your new hires more than if those who made the hire are participating in the onboarding. Of course, no one expects existing staff to participate in the ENTIRE activity, but just taking the time to make an appearance – however brief – is enough to say that yes, we DO care about you, you ARE important, and we DO look forward to you being a valued loyal member of our team.

Select an Appropriate Activity

Don’t select something for the new hires to do which doesn’t reflect the culture of your organization or industry. Rather, pick something which is matches the group, your goals, and is fitting for a workplace environment. Is your industry or culture traditionally competitive, such as finance, law or sales? Use that to your advantage with a good-natured contest such as a scavenger hunt, building a bike, or team trivia contest. Are your people introverted, as is often the case with many IT, accounting, or biotech groups? Then perhaps choose something more reserved & “brainy,” such as a mystery to solve, or perhaps an “Escape The Room”-type experience.


Companies must treat the onboarding process as a critical first step in retaining the best talent. Your new hires have options for where to work, and they have chosen you. Take advantage of the vital time when they first step into the office as colleagues to provide an enjoyable, educational experience, which thoughtfully and effectively communicates your key messages on day one.    

This is a guest post from David Jacobson, the founder and CEO of TrivWorks, a corporate entertainment and employee team building company in Southern California specializing in live customized trivia events. David has produced new hire events for corporate groups nationwide, and blogs regularly on a wide range of topics related to workplace culture, morale boosting, and teamwork.